Publish dateTuesday 4 June 2019 - 03:24
Story Code : 186259
Winning in Afghanistan Requires Taking the Fight to Pakistan
Taliban commanders have banned health workers including polio vaccinators from swathes of Afghanistan after accusing them of collecting intelligence used to target militant leaders with drones and other air strikes.
AVA- The insurgent movement has blocked both the World Health Organization and Red Cross from operating in areas under their control.
Its military commission alleges internationally-backed health workers collect information used to find and kill Taliban leaders in special forces raids and air strikes.
America has dramatically ramped up air strikes since Donald Trump vowed to pursue a more aggressive campaign in Afghanistan in 2017.
Last year saw the most air strikes in a decade, as US Air Force tried to dislodge ISIS and reverse Taliban gains.
US fighters, bombers and drones released 7,362 weapons in 2018, more than the three previous years combined.
More than 180,000 children have gone without polio vaccination in parts of southern Afghanistan the past two months because of the ban, which comes as health officials fear the eradication campaign is stalling.
Afghanistan is one of only three countries still harbouring the crippling virus, alongside neighbouring Pakistan, and Nigeria.
The WHO is in negotiation with the Taliban to try to regain access. Sources familiar with the discussions said Taliban military commanders had been unsettled by the recent accuracy of an Afghan and US military campaign to kill senior fighters. Several commanders had resorted to blaming intelligence gleaned from vaccination programmes.
“The military commission blames it for drone strikes and successful targeting,” said one source. “The internationals are hoping the embarrassment factor of the rising number of cases will have an effect on the Taliban. Also they will see air strikes are continuing even though there are no vaccinators out there.”
The insurgents want vaccinators to stop delivering polio drops door-to-door, and instead to administer vaccines from a central point, such as a village mosque. But doctors warn such a method would not reach enough children to stamp out the virus.
Seven cases have been found in Afghanistan so far this year, compared to nine in the whole of 2018.
Difficulties of vaccinating in southern Afghanistan meant there is now a reservoir of vulnerable children, the WHO said last week. “The critical issue of access is seriously hampering progress towards global eradication and needs to be resolved,” a statement said.
Suspicion of the vaccination programme echoes difficulties in Pakistan where conspiracy theories that polio drops are a plot to sterilise Muslims, or are dangerous to children, are rife. The disclosure that the CIA worked with a Pakistani doctor called Dr Shakil Afridi to set up a fake vaccination programme collecting DNA samples in the hunt for Osama bin Laden only added to suspicion. 
The Taliban in April said the Afghanistan ban was because of “suspicious” actions during vaccination campaigns.
A spokeswoman for the WHO said the body had worked with insurgents for years on vaccination programmes.
“We are concerned about the implications on health delivery for affected populations. The current temporary ban is not about polio vaccine per se, or against this vaccination activity, but about ensuring that the communities’ wishes are fully respected.”
She said that since the ban came into force in April, 180,000 children had missed vaccination in Helmand and Uruzgan.
“We are in discussions through neutral parties to resolve the situation.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is not involved in polio vaccination, has also been banned. A spokesman would not say what the dispute was about. “We hope to restart our work as soon as possible as the humanitarian needs remain enormous.”
Both the Taliban and US forces are continuing intense fighting while also holding regular talks in Doha. “We are continuing the aggressive targeting of individuals and groups,” said one international military official. International military commanders admit that even with the successful targeting, the conflict is a stalemate, with the Taliban increasing its grip on large parts of the country.
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